The Green Walls of Home

Source: Greenwall

Source: Greenwall

Whenever I go to look at comments as to why humans feel less stress when they have access to green areas – parks, forests, gardens – I come across a multiplicity of suggestions. We like the color green because it represents harmony and trust to us; green spaces encourage social contact and thus a healthier interaction between individuals; access to green spaces usually indicates a certain level of safety in a neighborhood or area, and people are more likely to walk outside and get some exercise.

Why do we feel better in the presence of plants and trees and green than we do without them? Maybe we’re just like any other creature – the presence of greenery means the presence of life.

Musée du Quai Branly, Paris, France Source: GreenRoofsAustralasia

Musée du Quai Branly, Paris, France
Source: GreenRoofsAustralasia

This might explain why work productivity seems to go up in buildings with green walls. This article describes five reasons people work better in green buildings. Air filtration, temperature regulation and a reduction in noise pollution can be attributed to a higher degree of comfort.

But the other two reasons, visual aesthetics and improved vision, are a different matter. Green walls are soothing, they change color over the course of the days and seasons, they are in constant movement, unlike static concrete and glass.

We humans came out of the trees and forests a long time ago, but the human eye remains more sensitive to light wavelengths associated with green and can pick out far more shades of green than any other color. Green is our friend.

Maybe green walls have a deeper effect on us. Perhaps they awaken an ancient nostalgia.

Maybe they still carry the comfort of what was once home.

Studio, San Francisco, USA Source: John Sutton Photography via Treehugger

Studio, San Francisco, USA
Source: John Sutton Photography via Treehugger


Image: 123rf

Image: 123rf

A few years ago, a fellow in the French village where we live showed us his old family house and business. The large stone building, dating back to the early nineteenth century, was in two side-by-side sections. On one side, the spacious restaurant; on the other side, a three-story rustic home. The structure had been empty since the restaurant had closed eight years earlier. The family had moved up the street to a modern home years before that.

Like all empty buildings, the structure hadn’t remained uninhabited at all. Most of the floors of the old residence had been chewed away by rodents and insects, cats had the run of the place. But there was one kind of resident that took us all by surprise.

The door to the large wine cellar hadn’t been opened in at least five years. And when our acquaintance opened it to show us the cellar, we found that the entire room, from top to bottom, was blanketed in white foam. Every surface, all the wine shelves, the floor, the walls, everything with the exception of a couple of forgotten wine bottles and the light bulbs that lit the place, was covered in thick white fungus. Some of it had hardened. The neighbor quietly shut the door on the secret ecosystem and gave us a look of dismay. “I’ll have to gut the cellar,” he said. “Can’t just clean that stuff up.

Fungal blocks created by Phil Ross

Fungal blocks created by Phil Ross

He could have instead decided follow the path of several researchers, architects, material developers and artists, and use the fungus as a building block.

Mycelium, mushroom root material, can be grown to fill almost any shape or mold. Once dried and hardened, the organic building blocks display a number of features we ask of our best building materials: They insulate, they are carbon-neutral in their manufacture, they are fire and water resistant. Fungal blocks grow themselves and once we are done with them, we can compost them to make more.

Queens, New York, will host an architectural installation made of fungal building blocks this summer. I’m not sure how people will take to wandering in a mushroom tower, but if these building blocks really do fulfil their promise, your next house might just be fungal.

The Hy-Fi self-growing tower designed by architect David Benjamin, to be installed at MoMA PS1 in Brooklyn. Watch a film of the installation here.

The Hy-Fi self-growing tower designed by architect David Benjamin, to be installed at MoMA PS1 in Qieems.
Watch a film of the installation here.

Remote Pod Life

Halley VI Photo: BAS/Anthony Dubber

Halley VI – A modular, mobile Antarctic research base
Photo: BAS/Anthony Dubber

I was going to post about something different today, but nanoparticles will just have to wait. Because this week saw the introduction of habitation and science pods worthy of my best childhood space travel dreams. Not only that, the pods are opening for service on a thoroughly inhospitable surface right here on our own planet: Antarctica. A team of researchers and conservationists recently returned a bottle of whisky to an Antarctic base abandoned almost a century ago – the original team had left provisions behind in their attempts to complete their mission alive. Anything built for human shelter in the Antarctic tends to get covered by snow. Also, if the ice upon which the structure is built is moving, the structure will move along with the ice – not necessarily in one piece. Also, much like our space junk left on the lunar surface, whatever gets left behind in Antarctic won’t decompose in the same manner it might elsewhere on the planet. Ideally, whatever gets taken in should be taken back out.

The newest British Antarctic Survey (BAS) station is designed to try and meet some of these challenges in a more long-lasting manner than many older bases. The Halley VI was opened this week. A modular construction, it is perched on legs to protect it against snow, but more importantly, it is built to move. Ski constructions at the end of the legs mean the entire base can be towed from location to location as necessary, or driven out of deepening snow. For comparison, here’s one old base, Halley III, in its current location:

Halley IIIBuilt in the 1970s, it was abandoned to the elements in the 1980s.Image: BAS

Halley III
Built in the 1970s, it was abandoned to the elements in the 1980s.
Image: BAS

As I said recently, research being carried out at the South Pole is of a basic nature, i.e. it’s not for commercial purposes but rather to explore the fundamentals of how the world works for the betterment of human knowledge. That’s not to say that the line of inquiry can’t result in projects, discoveries and advances which can be utilized for other purposes. Sometimes it’s not just the research results themselves, but the needs-driven innovations that underpin the ability of the scientists to do their work.

So, in confronting the challenges of housing a research team in the Antarctic, the design team at Hugh Broughton Architects might have provided us with new insights into building a greener shelter as well – one that is a “visitor, not a resident” on the land, according to the architect, and certainly one with excellent insulation.

At any rate, when I next picture myself lounging on a far flung moon, or maybe just lounging on a newly formed but remote shore on Earth as a retiree, it might just  look like this:

© Hugh Broughton Architects

© Hugh Broughton Architects


British Antarctic Survey – Halley VI

Hugh Broughton Architects – Halley VI